Pantami: Victim or villain

I sympathise with Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, Minister of Communication and Digital Economy who has been going through stress and strain this past week. He has denounced his past, attributing it to age of ignorance before enlightenment. He has paid restitution. As the Yoruba adage goes: you asked a thief to drop his loot, he complies, what else do you want of him?

Pantami is a resourceful academician, committed Islamic scholar and a man of great faith. His academic pursuit took him through Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Bauchi, Robert Gordon University Aberdeen, Scotland, for his PhD and to Harvard and Massachusetts both in the USA and Switzerland for other management studies.

For his clerical training, he studied under great Islamic scholars with radical views including: Umar Fallatah who narrated from Sahih Muslim that “Eesa (Jesus) the son of Maryam; Allah created him from a mother and he does not have a father”; Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen who wrote that “the time will come when Islamic rulers will cleanse the land of Arabia and the neighbouring lands from Jews and Christians; and Abdulmuhsin ibn Abbad, the author of the ‘Status of Sahabah, who wrote: “Whoever among you wishes to follow (someone), let him follow one who has died”.

It should therefore surprise no one that Pantami grew up to become a Jumu’ah Chief Imam, a Shurah member and Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Shari’ah (SCS) in Nigeria and espoused radical teachings and support for Islamic terrorist groups.

Pantami was a product of the era when northern governors, his pathfinders, protesting the shift of power from the north illegally introduced sharia law in core northern Muslim states and dispatched many innocent northern youths to Sudan for indoctrination under Osama Bin Laden. It was therefore not unexpected that amidst global terrorism of the period, he would express support for al-Qaeda and Taliban: “Oh God, give victory to the Taliban and to al-Qaeda,” and informed his home audience that: “This jihad is an obligation for every single believer, especially in Nigeria”.

Pantami: Victim or villain

Pantami in his innocence back then did not see anything wrong in his advocacy. Neither did his pathfinders in the north. In fact if his past featured at all, it was probably on the a positive note when warring Buhari’s ‘loyal gate keepers’ recruited a terrorist sympathizer from the Islamic University of Madinnah in 2016, first as the Director General/CEO of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to develop the ICT infrastructure to counter Boko Haram terrorism and later as minister for the sensitive communication and digital economy ministry in 2019.

Following overwhelming disapproval of is earlier support for violent Islamic groups, Isa Pantami, last week tried to backtrack on some of his extreme views that must have no doubt radicalized terrorist groups in Nigeria. ”For 15 years, I have moved around the country while educating people about the dangers of terrorism. I have travelled to Katsina, Gombe, Borno and Kano states, and Difa in the Niger Republic to preach against terrorism”, adding: “I have engaged those with Boko Haram ideologies in different places. I have been writing pamphlets in Hausa, English and Arabic. I have managed to bring back several young persons who have derailed from the right path”.

But the genie has escaped, the falcon can no longer hear the falconer. Those he had earlier radicalized have turned his new crusade centres into a killing field and havens for banditry and kidnapping of innocent school girls and boys. Unfortunately, those with radical views according to experts “don’t change overnight”.

As expected of an opposition party, PDP weeping louder than the bereaved wants Pantami sacked by Buhari, predicating its stand on the “heightening concerns in the public space and in the international arena of possible compromises by the communication minister, who has access to sensitive government documents and information, in addition to data of all individuals including high profile personalities in the public and private sectors as well as the traditional and faith-based circles”.

PDP may be right; the appeal however was misdirected. President Buhari doesn’t sack people. That is the exclusive preserve of his loyal gatekeepers. The only two appointees that have suffered the indignity of being unceremoniously sacked in six years were Babachir Lawal, the former secretary to government and Ibrahim Magu, the former EFCC helmsman, both victims of internecine wars of loyal gatekeepers. If the Buhari we knew were in charge, Pantami would have not lasted beyond 24 hours after subjecting 100 million Nigerians to danger and untold hardship in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. This was Identity Card project successive governments have used to fleece Nigerian state of billions of naira and which in any case, it cannot stop millions of non-Nigerians from neighbouring West African nations from illegally obtaining.

If one may ask, what has Pantami done that others have not done.? If the issue is about sympathy for terrorists, both PDP and APC are tarred with the same brush. It is on record that PDP is the father of terrorism in Nigeria. The party, by the confessions of some of its leading light created Boko Haram and the Niger Delta militant groups because of disagreement over power sharing.

In fact, President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012 was to admit his government had become a haven of Boko Haram sympathisers . According to him “Some of them are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government, while some of them are even in the judiciary…Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies”.

If anything, it only got worse under Buhari’s government of ‘delegation by abdication’ from 2015. With the control of all political appointments in the absence of any form of governance by his warring ‘loyal gatekeepers’, religion orientation and ethnic identification carry more weight than efficiency or loyalty to the state. It was obvious those who attempted to smuggle fugitive offender Abdulrasheed Maina back into the bureaucracy and those who knew the antecedents of Pantami and yet eased his appointment love neither Buhari nor Nigeria. It was also impossible for Pantami’s past to have escaped DSS during screening before his nomination was sent to the National Assembly for confirmation, a former DSS retired officer told Channels TV last Monday.

As for our National Assembly, unlike the US senate where rigorous preparation go into the screening of political office holders, here, it is a depressing exercise where candidates are asked to bow and take their leave. It brings little relief that some of them have admitted a number of senators are terrorist sympathisers.

Pantami was the victim rather than the villain. At the beginning of the fourth republic, not many northern politicians especially the Sharia governors opposed radical and extremist ideology or violent preaching If Buhari did, it was not until Boko Haram made an attempt on his life in Kano. And even as president on whose table the buck stops, until his recent ‘shoot at sight’ order of those herdsmen illegally carrying AK-47, he has been widely criticized for refusing to declare herdsmen as terrorists long after World Terrorist Index had declared ‘Fulani herdsmen the world fourth most deadly terrorist group”.

By Olalekan Awodehinde

Olalekan Awodehinde is a seasoned investigative reporter.

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